Friday, July 22, 2005


"n. A complex speech sound or glide that begins with one vowel and gradually changes to another vowel within the same syllable, as (oi) in boil or (i) in fine."

Somebody mentioned to me today the word “diphthong.” I had a vague recollection of knowing what that word meant. Sometime a long time ago. I imagine it was back when I was in school, in English class, where such things mattered.

I just knew it had something to do with pronunciation of vowel sounds, or something like that.

After I’d looked it up and found the definition above, I realized that my many readers would, no doubt, enjoy being re-introduced to this word.

Think how erudite you’ll sound when, in casual conversation, you drop this word in among more common ones.

If you don’t think you want to sound erudite, look that word up as well. You might change your mind.

Here’s an example: “Do you really think Brad Pitt is gay? Well, I doubt that very much! Say, did you hear that diphthong when I said the word ‘doubt?’”

And speaking of pronunciation, my print reference dictionary lists several alternate ways to say that word. The first syllable can either be “dif-” or, the “h” can be dropped resulting in “dip-.’ The second syllable can either have an “ah” sound (like “bong”) or an “aw” sound (like “wrong”).

I just threw that in so you wouldn’t say something like “diffthang” and sound like an idiot.

Which reminds me, do you remember the FedEx ad where the guy comes up to a FedEx counter and asks if they’ll deliver something overnight to “Puh – hoe – nex?” When asked where “Puh-hoe-nex” is, he says, “Well, duh! It’s, y’know, the capitol of Arizona?”

You wouldn’t want to sound like that guy, right?

Come to think of it, “Phoenix” contains a diphthong, doesn’t it? The “oe” in the first syllable would be one if you pronounce it slowly, and don’t just say “Feenix” like most people do.”

So, that’s your language lesson for today. Try throwing around the word “diphthong” and see how impressed people will be.

But be careful how you say it. If you choose to drop the first “h” and pronounce it “dip-thong,” some people might think you’re talking about a really skimpy swimsuit. (An alternate definition from “DotM.”)


Anonymous said...

Twilight Zone music plays in background. I was looking at a few pages of Latin phrases earlier. Before the list was a key to the Roman method of pronounciation of ancient Latin. The opening sentence: Long vowels are supposed to take twice as long as short vowels to utter. All dipthongs are long. I was reminded that there are no long "I's" in Latin. The long I sound is achieved with "ae", pronounced like the "ai" in aisle.
Thus it isn't e-sop, it is eye-sop, for Aesop. For all you ever wanted to know about dipthongs....

Karyn Lyndon said...

Oh boy...I can't wait till my next cocktail party!

the many Bs said...

Wouldn't a dip-thong be worn by DIP? People are always calling me a dipshit, or a dipstick, but I wouldn't be caught dead in a dip-thong! Well, maybe I'm just a dork.

Anonymous said...

I found what both you and Mike wrote very interesting indeed. I am so pleased that I am not too old to learn something new *grin*.

Duke_of_Earle said...


I, too, found Mike's comment interesting. Especially his second sentence, "I was looking at a few pages of Latin phrases earlier."

Uh, Mike? The last time I even thought about Latin phrases was when I read "Lonesome Dove" by Larry McMurtry and tried to figure out the latin motto they'd created for their Texas ranching operation. Of course, they also put on their sign in English, "We don't rent pigs." So what would you expect the Latin to say? I never did figure it out. Anyway, that was what, 20 years ago?

And Schnoodlepooh, the "dip" in "diphthong" is actually from the Greek "di" (meaning "two," as in "two vowel sounds that blend.") Clearly that indicates that the "Dips" you mention must suffer from dualism, a common personality disorder that makes them seem so yukky to the rest of us. (Btw, "yukky" is NOT from the Greek, in case you were wondering.)

And Karyn, from your writing I'd imagine that your cocktail parties really swing -- with or without diphthongs in the conversation -- but have fun with the word. (I can't figure why you let the word "cocktail" go by without some innuendo comment.)

Anonymous said...

Dipthong is one of those words that feels good to say. Am sure few know what it really is ... am sure most think it is something Don Rickles calls people. Thanks for the memory for 6th grade English ... from the Dark Ages.

Anonymous said...

This is one of those words that doesn't have a dirty meaning, but sounds like it should.

Nankin said...

Diphthong to you, too. According to my ex-mother-in-law, boil is pronounced bile, rinse is wrench, and tests is testies. Go figure.

Anonymous said...

"n. A complex speech sound or glide that begins with one vowel and gradually changes to another vowel within the same syllable, as (oi) in boil or (i) in fine."

I hate to break it to you, but this is Latin and "fine" (related to finis) does not rhyme with line or pine.